The fact that the current president’s house broadcaster reported Donald Trump’s defeat in the “Battleground” before the networks ABC, NBC, CBS and CNN was tantamount to terminating a long-term lucrative alliance. The rift between Trump and Fox News had emerged long before election night, however.
The tipping point was the disastrous interview with Chris Wallace in July. Since then, Trump has not been able to speak well of the coverage of the news channel from the media empire Rupert Murdoch.
During the hot phase of the election campaign, he advertised on Twitter for the right-wing One America News Network (OANN) and the social media platform Parler, on which supporters of the right-wing conspiracy cult QAnon have found a home.
Meanwhile, Trump has also overused the patience of the most loyal Fox presenters. Last week, even his staunch follower Tucker Carlson asked Trump attorney Sidney Powell to provide evidence of the unsubstantiated conspiracy theories from the president’s camp.
The experts agree that the smear theater around the recognition of the election result is more than just a political skirmish (the decisive runoff election in Georgia is still to come on January 5th). For months there has been speculation in Washington about plans that Trump could return to the political stage shortly after the election with his own media platform.
As a brand, Trump would already have been extensively tested for its target group suitability before it was launched. With 73 million voters and 89 million Twitter followers, it represents a political power to be reckoned with in the years to come. And which Trump would be only too happy to monetize.
Since the election the term “Trump TV” has been circulating again: a threatening scenario for the American media landscape, through which the political rift runs as deep as it does through society. The election campaign showed that there is untapped potential on the right-wing spectrum that can be mobilized.
This prospect does not make speculations about Trump’s entry into the media business completely absurd, even if the New York public prosecutor’s office is only waiting to initiate proceedings against the future ex-president for opaque business dealings in the family company.
Trump may not have the financial resources of Michael Bloomberg, whose Bloomberg TV is considered one of the last successful channel launches (1994). But he has a loyal following.
Trump loves the big stage of television
CNN economics expert Brian Stelter estimates the chances of Trump’s own cable station being low. Linear television channels are expensive and less and less lucrative. Just feeding it into the cable network, the Financial Times recently wrote, would cost hundreds of millions of dollars. OANN founder Christopher Ruddy, who is still in the red after six years, had to find out how fiercely competitive the US market is.
Fox News enjoys a monopoly in the right-wing media spectrum that can hardly be broken despite younger competitors such as OANN and Newsmax. On election night, the audience averaged 13.7 million viewers, well ahead of CNN. The success curve has been constant over the years, also unaffected by the departures of well-known names such as Megyn Kelly and Bill O’Reilly.
At Fox News, there was always agreement – behind closed doors – that the broadcaster was bigger than the president. In the past few months, CEO Lachlan Murdoch was therefore very relaxed when asked about the prospect of new competition from the long-time Fox regular, who gave the station fantastic ratings.
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What the past election campaigns have just shown is how much money conservative donors like the Koch brothers, Rebekah Mercer (whose wealth is already in Parler) or Tom Hicks are willing to invest in right-wing projects.
The Texan entrepreneur Hicks is said to have approached the Republican National Committee two years ago with the idea of buying up OANN or Newsmax. The outgoing Donald Trump, who has analyzed his voters like no president before, a political data octopus, could be the decisive factor in this thought game.
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The unpredictability of a notorious narcissist remains an inhibiting factor, which could reduce the willingness of investors to put money into a Trump-affiliated project.
Your own show at the side of right-wing opinion-throwers?
Most observers agree that the cheaper options (a streaming station or a podcast) would not correspond to his personality profile. For Trump, political influence is only a means to an end: he loves the big television stage. Its popularity is measured in ratings, not clicks. So much will also depend on how the American media landscape rearranged itself in the Biden era.
Was the radicalization of Fox News only due to the adrenaline high of the “Trump Bump” – constant alertness through targeted escalation policy – or will the station try to steal the new competition from right-wing viewers?
In the media as in politics, however, the law of give and take also applies. A more likely scenario is therefore that Donald Trump, after the tempers have cooled, will get his own Fox show alongside right-wing opinion-throwers like Tucker Carlson, Sean Hannity and Laura Ingraham, as the evil spirit of Mar-a-Lago. Television from the gilded ivory tower.